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Historic settlement: Vikings and Medieval activity

The excavation of a large bow shaped hall at Bornais

The excavation of a large bow shaped hall at Bornais

Norse settlements are relatively easy to locate on the machair due to the presence of distinctive ceramic platters (19). Approximately 23 settlements have been identified and these settlements are fairly evenly distributed along the machair plain and occur close to, or on top of, Iron Age settlements (80). These relationships are demonstrated by the two excavated settlements at Bornais and Cille Pheadair.

A plan of Bornais showing the mounds and the areas excavated  71.7 Kb

Bornais is a substantial settlement that lies in the centre of the island on the machair plain (76). The earliest excavated structure dates to the end of the Middle Iron Age and the occupation continues through the Pictish and Viking periods to end at the beginning of the fifteenth century. In contrast the Norse settlement at Cille Pheadair was established on an area of machair that was previously unoccupied though close to an existing Iron Age settlement mound.

The excavation of a Norse house at Cille Pheadair

The excavation of a Norse house at Cille Pheadair

There are significant differences between the two excavated Viking/Norse settlements. Bornais is much larger, comprising at least five separate mounds equivalent to the Cille Pheadair settlement. One of the mounds at Bornais, mound 2, is much larger and excavation has revealed a sequence of houses of considerable size and sophistication (81). The best-preserved house is a substantial bow-shaped stone-walled hall almost 20 metres long and 6m wide. It was built on top of a house estimated to be 23.1 m long and was succeeded by a building 12 m long by 5.4m wide. These buildings are much larger than the Cille Pheadair houses and the houses built on the subsidiary mounds at Bornais.

Both settlements have produced large quantities of artefacts, which suggest they were occupied by individuals with widespread connections in the Scandinavian areas of the North Atlantic. These include copper alloy pins imported from Ireland, gold decorative fittings, silver coins from England and Norway, steatite from Shetland, ceramics from southern England, antler combs from Norway and ivory, possibly from Greenland. Bornais has produced antler decorated with a classic Ringerike style animal that was probably imported from Scandinavia. Evidence for Christianity at Cille Pheadair include two bone crosses, and at Bornais two small lead crosses and two fragments of green porphyry possibly from Rome have been recovered.


Bornais LIA and Viking gallery

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